Category Archives: What I think

Some Hows of Timelapse

I made a little timelapse this week and put it in my flickr stream because I found, to my chagrin, that it made instagram video barf.

Robert spotted it (see? he *is* looking, watching, lurking quietly after all) and kindly mentioned it in his newsletter this morning. He asked “How did he do that?”

Well here are a few ways of answering that:

  • I shot it on my phone. It’s an “HTC One”, which accounts for the wide screen. There’s a free (with Pro version available) app called Droid Timelapse. The only real setting I use is to adjust the Frame Capture Rate – each frame here is a second apart. I did no other processing after shooting, just uploaded it.
  • I’d just tried out the new cafe in the newly extended Sainsbury’s in Garratt Lane, opposite the Southside Centre. It is nothing special, but for £1.95 I got a large mug of reasonable coffee that I enjoyed more than the sort they serve over the road in Caffe Nero for example. I came to the exit and realised it was raining (again) and saw in front of me a big window out onto the street. So I went and stood by it, propping my phone up against the glass, firing up Droid Timelapse, holding very still and pressing the button to make it start. Then I waited for the counter to reach 10 (I don’t know how long that took, I’d have to do some arithmetic with frame rates… but that makes 10 seconds of video) and I pressed the button again to make it stop. Then I went and bought some sausages in Sainsbury’s and went home.
  • While it was shooting, I was nervous. I expected at every moment to hear one of the security guards behind me say “I’m sorry sir, you can’t do that here” I couldn’t move because I was holding the camera still. I imagine that if anyone had actually paid any attention, they’d have thought I looked like I was waiting to take a picture for a very long time. While I was standing there a young (I dunno, late teens I guess) woman and a slightly older man came and stood nearby. They had a trolley full of groceries but I assumed they were either waiting for the rain to calm down or waiting for someone else to turn up. They were having that kind of conversation where you don’t get too deeply into anything because you know that you’re going to be interrupted at any moment by a change in the weather or the arrival of your friend. I zoned in and out of their conversation while wondering how the movie was going to turn out – would it be too fast? what would it look like when the traffic slowed down or stopped for the traffic lights? how many buses had gone past now? – the only thing I remember her saying was “I’ve been told by many people that they’ve had visions of me dying young.” When I turned around all I really clocked of her was that she had long hair and was wearing a light-coloured (creamy) woolen garment – I couldn’t say whether it was a cardigan or a pullover. It might have been Aran.

Does that help? Anything else you want to know?

Footnote: While I drafted this post (and the previous one) in Fargo, it’s still easier to embed media (especially moving pictures) using the wordpress.com interface. Boo! (actually that’s not true, I made it up before actually trying it out – the flickr code is just a line of text which would fit nicely on a line in Fargo. I’ll try that next time)

[bds] People, places and things. Oh and time.

[This post is about the Bromsgrove Digital Shoebox project - bds]

I’m thinking about the scope of media/content/stuff.  It’s a balancing act, working out where to draw the lines – what should be included, what should be outside the remit of the project.

It doesn’t actually matter that these lines are arbitrary and flexible, but at this stage, when the main focus is on explaining what I’m doing, in order to help people decide whether to fund more work, it helps if it’s clear enough for them to quickly understand the basics.  On the other hand, I don’t want to dictate this too tightly, too early, I want your input.

So what’s in?

  • I’ve talked about photos, film and audio; scans of documents might be interesting if they’re not available elsewhere.
  • I’ve set the timeframe to be the 1970s and by that I suppose I meant 1970-1979 inclusive.  I’m not deeply attached to this, and I wouldn’t want to exclude interesting material from say 1981.  I think it’s something that can become firmer when we really know what is out there.
  • The media should have been produced in Bromsgrove or include people who lived in Bromsgrove at the time (let’s not exclude those pics of school trips to France!).  If it’s in Bromsgrove, then the media might not include people, it might just be places, buildings, roads, railways etc. I think using the boundary of Bromsgrove District Council is appropriate.
  • I’m also most interested in media made by “ordinary people” rather than press or TV coverage (if only to avoid rights conversations with a bureaucracy) but I wouldn’t want to exclude them altogether.

Any thoughts on other dimensions to the scope?

You can contribute to keep this project moving. Every donation helps, thanks :)

Tuttle needs to move

Tuttle is a travelling circus. It needs to move and it needs to go where the people are. I needed a rest from herding the Tuttle cats and C4CC was a great place to let the show rest and settle and for me to run around doing other crazy things for a bit (OK 2 years). But I miss old Tuttle. And other people do too. I think it’s time to get it going somewhere else.

The question is, “where?” At the moment that’s quite a high-level where. London? Yes. East or West? Not sure.

I get frustrated by talk of what made Tuttle “work” in 2008/9. “It was this person. I liked the ICA because it was like this. I liked the Coach & Horses because it was like that. etc.” I don’t think any of us really know what the secret-sauce was, because there was no single secret sauce.

But I think the most important thing to answer now is: if Tuttle is a thing for everyone, where can lots of people go to that’s near enough to where they were going to go on Friday morning anyway?

Or is it?

None of us know the whole story… *ever*

But that doesn’t stop us believing that we do.

My twitter stream this morning is full of bile, shock, disgust, fear, misanthropy and argument about a young man who’s been arrested for trolling the diver Tom Daley and the loss of Twitter access by Guy Adams of the Independent for having a go at NBC about their Olympic coverage.  On the one hand the abuser of a popular sportsman is hounded by the mob, on the other, Twitter itself is seen as the bad guy for limiting freedom of speech when asked to by a business partner.

At least that’s what I saw.  You may see it differently – but I recognise that that statement itself is subject to my own biases, framing and prior decisions about how the world is and how human beings operate within it.

There was a piece yesterday from Mark Earls on the futility of trying to change people’s minds with information and argument:

“We only see what we expect to see, distrust and discount the witnesses who present what we don’t want and devalue their evidence if they turn out to be from the other side.”

There’s nothing we can do about this [imho] it’s just the way [I believe] the world works.  The other side of it is that it’s easy to say something that inadvertently presses someone’s buttons and sends them into a disturbed state.  I see it everyday in all my relationships where tension and arguments arise, with even those people I love the most and with whom I think I share most common ground.  Somebody will, in the course of an ordinary conversation, say or do something that doesn’t fit with my view of how people should be and immediately I label it “totally inappropriate” and suddenly “I can’t believe they just said/did that!”  If I don’t pause at that point and think “Oh, that’s an interesting reaction, Lloyd” then retaliation is likely to follow and we can end up spiralling into pretty yucky stuff.

But when it happens on a global network between people who don’t know each other or care particularly about each other, it can get really nasty and the law needs to get involved (either the law of the land or the Twitter Terms of Use).

I think the things to remember are these:

1. When you direct something critical to another user on a social platform like Twitter, especially if that user is a person in the public eye or a corporation, it’s possible that you’ll be ignored but you may also be mobbed.  Be aware that you’re not just dealing with another person, you’re potentially also up against their friends, colleagues, business partners, fans, pretty much anyone who has experienced grief after the death of someone close to them *and* their unconscious reactions that may turn you literally into the spawn of Satan in their eyes.  The interaction with them might draw behaviours out of you that you’d rather not have displayed in public, which may turn out to be illegal when expressed on the internet and may result in real-life physical consequences for you, your friends, colleagues… etc.

2. Twitter is a privately owned company with its own vision, priorities and agenda. Value to the company, their shareholders, and by extension those with whom they have strategic and commercial alliances, will always trump the needs of an individual non-paying user.  They are not a nationalised industry, or piece of public infrastructure, no matter how much we wish they were.  If we want a public utility like that, we’ll have to build it and pay for it ourselves.

Control again

I got an e-mail today saying:

“I am part of the web development team for XXXX where we are constantly trying to improve the http://www.XXXXX.com site’s user experience. Part of this improvement involves meeting our users’ expectations when they are referred to XXXXX.com from other websites. To achieve this we are trying to ensure that all inbound links to our site point to a page that is relevant and useful to the visitor and that the link has anchor text that accurately describes the page it is linking to.

On this page of your site http://perfectpath.co.uk/XXXX you have a link to XXXXX.com. To help us improve the usability of our site it would be greatly appreciated if you could change the link so that it has the following anchor text and links to the following page.”

No.

This is my blog. If you don’t understand that as an answer, then you’re not qualified to be in any web development team imho.

There are two parts to it:

1. My – I write it and keep it tidy. I write whenever and whatever I like. I update things if I think there’s some value in doing so. I don’t work for you just because I linked to your site. Content on my site doesn’t get updated just because you decide to reorganise your site. If you break your own links or are engaging in some SEO shenanigans, it’s really not my problem.

2. Blog – the web is not an extension of your content management system, it’s a place where I write on the internet, for myself and for people I know. I didn’t link to you for your benefit, I linked to you because I thought it might be useful to my readers at that time. I’m highly dubious that anyone will look at that post very much, the value to people who read this blog has deteriorated over time anyway. Yes there are interesting things in my archives, but my post linking to you isn’t one of them, it was just a “Here’s what I did today” post.

I can’t say much more without going into details that would reveal who the e-mail came from. Gah!

The Social Art of Travelling across the USA

tuttle2texas

Hmmm… that feels like a big title for something important. Well I suppose it is. In a way it’s what I’m thinking about all the time – how might I repeat the adventure of last March? Do I want to? (yes) Why do I want to? How to do it differently? What do I want to keep? What to I want to avoid?

And answering all those questions feel like issues of control. And what I learned last year is that what’s interesting in this space is what happens when you let go of control. What happens when you simply put yourself in a place with a few rules and structures ie where you can have only minimal control over what happens next? What happens when you willingly conspire with yourself to create an adventure where you end up in a hotel room in New York, writing on your blog that you don’t know where you’re going to stay in 3 days time when you arrive in New Orleans? What do you learn? What can you do differently if you come across this situation again.

Where’s the wisdom literature about this? Well it turns out that the great spiritual works boil down to life being a journey into the unknown and how you deal with the pitfalls along the way – but they do it at a very abstract level. There are principles in there that are useful, about staying in the moment, letting the process (God, the Tao, Flying Spaghetti Monster) happen, letting the universal power do it’s work and getting out of the way, surrendering to that power.

And then there’s movies. A much more socially acceptable way of exploring these ideas in the 21st Century than reading the Bible :) Pretty much everything is a Hero’s Journey, but some are more literally about a journey than others. Frankie and I asked on twitter the other day for favourite examples. We got:

Wild at Heart
Easy Rider
Apocalypse Now
Road to Perdition
The Odyssey
O Brother, Where Art Thou.
Jason & the Argonauts
39 Steps
North by NW
Africa United
Two-Lane Blacktop
Butch Cassidy & Sundance Kid
Midnight Run
The Blues Brothers
Kings of the Road
Paris, Texas
Thelma & Louise

Just a random Friday afternoon selection – chuck some more in – when we’ve got a fuller list and an idea of which are most useful, I’ll run some screenings/conversations to explore this idea a bit further.

Umm… so why might this be important beyond simply making something beautiful?

Well, consider you’re an established FMCG brand for example. You know you want something like the Old Spice campaign. You buy the *theory* that you should be involving customers and engaging them beyond a 2010 version of a caption-writing contest, but you also know that this means ceding some control.

Yes, the C-word again. It’s what freaks the bejaysus out of people in businesses like that – we’ve all seen it: they want to do the new cool thing, they want to play in this space, but they sit at the edge of the playground afraid to join in.

But what if there was a safe way of doing it, of practicing it in such a way that you could bring it into your every day work – mightn’t that be a way of sliding along the spectrum towards real engagement? What if you didn’t have to do it at all, but you could just hear the story of someone else doing it, not in a packaged, polished, rationalised case study after the dust had settled, what if you could watch the people doing it in real time (and maybe join in and give them a hand if you had something they needed)?

Maybe?

My passport expires tomorrow

Passport expires tomorrowYikes!

When I got this, 25th October 2010 seemed a very very long time away. It was still a massive novelty to be saying 2000-and-something and being in the noughties, let alone considering the second decade of the 21st Century.

I can’t remember why I renewed it when I did. But I’m guessing that it was something to do with my then impending 10th wedding anniversary (yes folks, in a couple of weeks it’ll be 20 years since I got married!) – I think we went to Paris for the day. I certainly had no idea at that point, what the next 10 years would hold: that I’d no longer be married, that I’d be self-unemployed for the majority of the time, that I’d have lost about 80lbs in weight, I’d have grown a beard and that we’d have a Tory-ish government again by now.

Or that popping over to Paris would have become so ordinary for me. I mean, I’m not over there every weekend, but every time I go, it feels more like a commuter trip than the big expedition it once was.

I’ll be in Paris at the beginning of December again for LeWeb (I’m an official blogger again – proper post about that coming up soon) and although I’m excited about being there, my focus for adventure is on gadding about the UK and then zipping across the USA – kinda beyond the wildest dreams of Lloyd Davis, aged 35, Information Manager for the Best Value Inspection Service at the Audit Commission, married for 10 years, two children, comfy home in Surrey…

Mind you, that Lloyd may have winced at the price of a passport renewal, but he knew where the money was coming from and he knew he’d have it in time for the trip. Excitement and adventure do come at a price :)

Facebook misuse of “via”

This has been bothering me for a while but I only really understood it when I just used it (Life Lesson #348).

Facebook has a kind of retweeting function so if you see something that someone else has linked to and you want to share it, the person whose feed you saw it in gets some automatic credit. Good.

I’ve only seen it so far in other people’s streams as Monkey McNutz via Chicken Crazoffsky: OMG this video makes me pee in my pants!

When both parties are a friend of mine then it can be confusing (if you don’t know the form). Who saw it first? Who’s refacebooking whom?

Then I saw it a few times where Monkey McNutz was clearly retweeting people who aren’t in my friends list people I’ve never heard of like Duckface Dibble.

So here’s the problem: I read “Monkey McNutz via Chicken Crazoffsky: OMG! ” as “Monkey says, by way of Chicken … OMG etc.” which doesn’t really make sense. It’s like Monkey is using Chicken as a ventriloquists dummy – whereas actually it’s the other way round. This message is coming to you from Chicken via Monkey (cos you might not know Chicken at all)

I think it’s something about the placement of the via clause – if it were at the end of the link (or whatever is being shared) then it would make sense, because it’s more obviously an attribution – but having it in the Name field drives me McNutz.

See? You don’t see, do you, it’s just me, isn’t it…? sorry.

Getting people to do stuff

I was prompted to write about this by a twitter exchange this morning. Sophia Looney from Lambeth Council was wondering about getting some help around data visualisation for reporting. “Heh” I chuckled to myself, “you mean the kind of thing the Audit Commission used to do so well before it let its brightest creative minds drift away…?”

But bitter cynicism aside, the question is: where are the data viz people who might be willing to contribute to something like this? How could the offer be made more attractive? Who’s already doing something or something closely related? I’m out of the loop on so much of this – my instincts are to ask Emma Mulqueeny, Thayer Prime, Paul Clarke, Dominic Campbell, Robert Brook.

My (probably ignorant, please put me straight) prejudice is that there are specialists giving time to being clever in the storage layer and the analysis layer, but they are having to act as talented amateurs in the presentation layer and that the whole thing is being led from a technical point of view. I hope this isn’t true any more and I’m just out of date, but I think there’s more value to be found in working out what stories local and central government want to tell and then seeing how they can be told with interesting combinations of open data. Regardless of the technology invoived, what is the story you want to tell and how can it be supported by data?

It may be that there’s a project to run at #C4CC on this – bringing together council performance & policy people with Higher Ed data viz folk like this chap and the open data crowd. I’m happy to facilitate something, let me know.

More generally, it got me thinking about how to articulate what I think is important to remember about crowdsourcing and getting people to do stuff… for free.

There’s a common theme in articles about the web: “There are people out there, doing stuff… for free!” Now, mostly this is in the context of someone writing or producing a mainstream media piece that’s actually saying “There are people out there doing what I trained for years to do and get paid moderately well for, but they do it for free – how long will it be before the people who pay me decide they can get a better deal elsewhere?” or for the less self-aware “Ha ha! Look at those suckers! They do all this, for nothing!”

I’ve seen many, many conference presentations, pointing to crowdsourcing such as Wikipedia and saying “Look, there are people out there doing stuff… for free! Maybe you could do something like this, and massively reduce your costs” Well, maybe, but it’s not as simple as it sounds.

I want to add that we don’t know much really about how the social and economic dynamics of the web work. It’s still relatively new and even those of us who’ve been immersed in it for more than 10 years would be wise to acknowledge from time to time that it’s a vastly complex and always evolving subject. So when you hear anyone say “this is the way the web works” take it with a pinch of salt and substitute with “this is a way that I think the web works”

So this is my favourite theory about crowdsourcing. It’s not about complete selflessness, the people who contribute are not just giving stuff away, they are building something together. They’re making stone soup. To put it in more economic terms it’s the demand-side supplying itself (I first heard this from Doc Searls at LesBlogs in 2005) Why do they do it?

Because, when you want something done and when you have a way of connecting with a very large and diverse group of people it’s far easier and quicker to do it yourselves than it is to wait for a corporation or government to do it for you.

Key phrase: “when you want something done”. If I want something done, and I think I have something to offer, and I think it’s interesting, and I think there are enough other people who are going to contribute similarly, and I think our joint effort is safe from short-sighted people who might exploit it, then I might chuck something in the pot. A lot of ifs in that sentence.

The other bit that often gets ignored is that it does cost something. It’s tempting to think that it all comes for free, because the contributors are giving of themselves freely. Again, not quite. Yes, it costs massively less, but someone has to pay for whatever infrastructure is required for the job. They may be small costs and a long way away, but they are there.

What’s with the lines and boxes and backstory?

Tuttle in boxes and lines

What’s all this about then? Well it’s becoming clear to me that there are two things that I need to do that I’m not doing enough of. First is that I should be writing more publicly about what I’m doing and how. But also that the connections between seemingly different bits need to be articulated too.

Wait. There’s something else we need to sort out first. This isn’t about me. I mean obviously it all is but that’s not because I think what I’m doing or thinking is particularly important or even interesting but because it’s the material that’s closest to hand.

I am interested in how stories get told on the internet and the rest of the world, and how storylines can move between the two. How narratives can carry over from blogs to films to games to comic-strips to conversations down the pub to a picture on the wall. That’s what transmedia storytelling is to me. Many definitions of transmedia include the word “fictional”. I think it’s valuable to operate at a higher level of abstraction and include elements that might be fictional or might be factual or maybe predominantly factual but include elements that are wholly and explicitly subjective interpretations of the “facts”.

And social art field trips like Tuttle2Texas are non-fictional transmedia experiences. And I know that it’s sometimes difficult to explain or understand what they’re for. They’re not *for* anything. They’re not a means to an end. They are deliberately at such a level of abstraction that their primary purpose is to help illustrate how stories (fictional or otherwise) might be co-created and told, because we don’t know that well enough yet – and if we operate only at lower levels of abstraction it’s much harder to learn what works and to transfer that learning between domains of interest.

So what I’m trying to here before my brain explodes is to shift up yet another level and say OK, if you take #tuttle as an element and #tuttle2texas as an element and that consulting work we did last year as an element, how do they all fit together?

Not “How can we find the common thread so that we can present a coherent marketing pitch?” But rather, given that this stuff is as coherent and congruent as anything else, what connections need to be articulated to help you suspend your disbelief? What needs to be explained? How wide and empty can the gutter be? What might I fill the gutter up with to help you across? What backstory is useful that helps you get to the beginning. And what is the beginning? Where do you start? Because when you’re telling this kind of a story, each element may have a beginning, middle and an end, but the great thing about having near infinite capacity to co-create and store stuff is that we can stretch the story out as long as our patience and interest and attention can last.

And if we can work it out at this level (and I’ll only do that by doing it) then perhaps there are valuable lessons that are more generally applicable.

I think.